Recap of Episode One
Warning: Contains spoilers, so if you haven’t read Episode One yet, get the whole thing here.

In the near future, despite the ever-present threat of global Islamic terrorism, billionaire Texan cattleman Cornell Westermann’s Lone Star Aerospace is pioneering private space exploration, as its competitor, Federated Space Flight, run by the sinister yet beautiful, D’Arcy Sinclair, uses political machinations, including an injunction from the federal EPA, to try to drive Lone Star out of business. On a mission to rescue astronauts from the International Space Station, damaged by an unexplained explosion, the crew of Lone Star III appears to best Federated’s Talon cruiser, arriving first and, after a Talon sustains damage in a failed attempt to dock, removing several of the ISS crew, but leaving others behind as their oxygen continues to dissipate. However, Dr. MahnAz Roshanzadeh, an Iranian-American scientist, recently fired from Federated because a jihadist announced a fatwa on her, alerts Lone Star that Federated may have sabotaged Lone Star III by hacking the ship’s schematics, so that it will burst into a fireball on re-entry. Aided by St. John Templar-Maubray, a mysterious personage with a haughty British accent, MahnAz escapes an attempt on her life and travels to the west Texas plain to deliver the evidence. Using these schematics, the Lone Star III crew, led by former NFL-star-turned-Delta Commando Hector Gaines and former NASCAR driver David Toma, affects repairs and safely lands Lone Star III. Then in a desperate race for time, the crew attempts to return to ISS to save the remaining astronauts. This time, however, Federated gets there first, but as Talon docks with ISS, and D’Arcy Sinclair gloats of her victory, an explosion erupts from the station and destroys the Federated ship. Episode Two begins in the wake of the ISS disaster.
"So you’re telling this hundred million dollar contract ain’t fit to wipe my saddle sores?!" Cornell tossed the NASA contract, as thick as a small town phone book, onto his desk. He had asked his Chief Counsel, Mr. Melville, to review the document again. If he could squeeze a few nickels there, maybe he could avoid whoring himself to the ChiComs. He could go back to the Board and tell them to void this deal with the devil.
"Without the International Space Station, there is no contract. It’s, uh, force majeure. Act of God."
"Hell!" Cornell erupted. "Was an Allah-damned Muslim terrorist." He took a swig of coffee, nearly choking; it was so awful. In five minutes he had to meet six members of the National People’s Congress for a grin and bow at the Command Center, and he couldn’t even get a decent cup of coffee. He hit the intercom, signaling his assistant.
Bad coffee, though a signature element of the Lone Star corporate culture, was inexcusable in Cornell’s office. He wanted his employees to think the sixteen-ounce stainless steel mug he gripped throughout the day contained the same prairie roast he put out for them, thick as mud from the Rio Grande. That illusion was about team building, to get every hand to "cowboy up" and drive the herd. Yet, despite his carefully cultivated trail-boss swagger, Cornell couldn’t stomach the slop, and had his own custom blend flown in from Sumatra. Today, somehow, because everything around him was turning to manure, he’d gotten genuine cowboy coffee, bitter to the last drop. Just like the report from his Chief Counsel.
"Whether the disaster is natural or man-made," Melville hawed, "it releases NASA from any obligations under the contract."
"Man-made disaster?" Cornell grunted. "Weak-sister’s gone, but his mealy-mouthed euphemisms live on."
His assistant, Gina, ever perky, poked her head in the door. He held up his mug with a plaintive, exasperated expression that said it all.
"I’m sorry, Mr. Westermann, but the coffee gets routed through Singapore, and they’ve initiated additional anti-terrorist protocols that are slowing air shipments."
"Well, that’s just great," he huffed. "Bad enough these lunatics blow up ISS, have us teetering on bankruptcy, now they’re interfering with coffee?!"
Maybe he ought to lay off it anyway. He was getting tachycardia. His internist had warned him about stress, using the phrase "a man your age" three separate times during his last physical, and urging him to put some meat on his wiry frame. Not likely, Cornell had told him. True, having grown as craggy, arid and grey as the Texas panhandle, he might emulate other men of his station, and spend his final days at the country club. But Cornell had more worlds to conquer, literally, and if an early grave was the price for one day walking on Mars, so be it. He turned back to his Counsel. "You’re saying there’s no work to do? Nothing to bill for? No R and D?"
The lawyer shook his head.
"How’s D’Arcy Sinclair taking it?" he wondered aloud. "Please tell me this affects Federated as much as us."
Melville shifted uneasily in his seat. "NASA had an identical escape clause with Federated. But Ms. Sinclair is petitioning Congress to continue paying under the contract as a goodwill gesture."
"Goodwill? As in charity?"
The lawyer squirmed. "We would strongly suggest that you likewise petition Congress."
Cornell slammed his fist on the desk. "You want to send me to Washington rattling a tin cup?"
The Chief Counsel was somber. He sat silently as Cornell paced behind his desk. "What the hell am I paying you for? Find something in the contract we can hold them to. Work we can do and bill for. I ain’t marchin’ on Washington begging for a handout! And I don’t like this Manchurian business either." He took a deep, wretched swig and stared again at his Counsel, who remained unshaken.
"If Ms. Sinclair succeeds in getting government funding," Melville stated flatly, "she’ll be the big dog, and she’ll lap up every dime of equity capital for space exploration. She’ll be able to undercut our price on the private contracts. So you won’t have to worry about China." Cornell tipped his head to the side and stretched his spasming neck muscles. He heard a few pops in his cervical column as if punctuating the counselor’s closing statement. "If you don’t convince Congress, Lone Star is history."
Cornell rubbed his brow with the heel of his hand. "If you’ll excuse me, it’s time to meet our Communist overlords."
*
Nadine Grijalva had been told that when Westermann’s private jet arrived with the Chinese dignitaries, she was to greet them on the tarmac. She was the logical choice; she’d grown up in Hong Kong, where her father had been an international banker, so she’d been fluent in Cantonese at twelve. Her family had outlasted the British there by ten years, returning to the U.S. in 2007. Two years later, Nadine had entered Stanford where she undertook a standard pre-med curriculum and minored in Mandarin. Before entering medical school, she’d spent two years studying Eastern medicine in Beijing. That part of her CV had so impressed the Lone Star brass, who had anticipated competition and cooperation with the People’s Republic, that she’d vaulted past several candidates who’d had actual space flight experience.
She’d expected Mr. Westermann, as CEO of the company, to join her, but he’d said he was only willing to debase himself so far for the sake of this contract, and would instead meet the delegation in Command Central. So, in his place, whom did the CEO send? A board member? The Chief Operations Officer? Even the illustrious Captain Gaines? No, Cornell Westermann decided that the face of Lone Star should be… David Toma.
"I don’t like this any more than you," he griped as he fiddled with the cufflinks of his dress uniform. "I was raised to hate Communists. My grandfather fought at the Bay of Pigs."
"Don’t think of them as Communists," Nadine said lightly. "Think of them as gangsters. The kind you rolled out the red carpet for at your club in South Beach."
"Well, that’s different," he muttered. "You don’t do business with them, they shut you down."
"And that’s different, how?"
The jet approached with a roar and stirred up a cyclone of prairie dust as it landed. Nadine waited behind the glass of the atrium for the air to settle, then strode forward into the stultifying Texas heat, hoping Toma would follow her lead and not say or do anything stupid.
She recognized the leader of the delegation, Xi Dong Wen, from a photo in the dossier Westermann had given her. Xi was Director of Aerospace Enterprises for the People’s Republic. He was tallish with a full head of black hair and shoulders too narrow for his thick neck and large head.
Her greeting, in flawless Mandarin, elicited a polite smile from Xi, but the four other men were decidedly dour, and the one woman, remarkably aloof. Nadine’s introduction of the Security officers who would, according to prior agreement, collect the visitors’ personal electronics for safekeeping, seemed to irk the bureaucrats. Tough crowd, she thought to herself. What now, six hours of staring at stone faces…?
"Hai, Naw-sue-cah!" Xi cried. He pointed at Toma. Nadine wondered what he could have done. They all began calling: "Naw-sue-cah! Naw-sue-cah!" Nadine didn’t recognize the word, but the Chinese were laughing, and Toma was smiling and nodding.
"Wait, what?" Nadine implored.
Toma winked at her unctuously. "NASCAR. Big in Beijing. Who knew?"
*
Cornell did not appreciate the Eastern custom of bowing to an acquaintance. He’d always held that lifting an eyebrow was a sufficient greeting, and a nod of the head far too effusive. He’d shake hands at weddings and funerals, or when some idiot stuck his hand out and there was no way around it. The only way he’d hug a man is if one of them lost his parachute. This bowing was purely for Democrats.
So, on the deck of Lone Star Command, Cornell suddenly regretted not greeting the ChiComs on the tarmac. At least he could have dispensed with the bowing without the staff eyeballing him. The ChiComs didn’t say much, but he hadn’t expected technical questions; these were politicians, not scientists. Their visit had one aim: to negotiate the amount of graft Lone Star would have to pay to push the contract through. He was surprised they’d brought a woman with them, especially one this young and lovely. He was not surprised that she appeared bored, or that Toma seemed smitten. When Grijalva said the lady’s name was Gong, he could almost hear Toma thinking, Yeah, I’d hit that. But from what little Cornell knew of the Chinese, Gong was an unusual name for a woman. Grijalva confirmed that, in fact, it was an honorific, something along the lines of Lord or Duke. The lady’s explanation, courtesy of Grijalva, was classic Communist propaganda: "The People’s Republic has made great progress in eradicating outmoded gender distinctions." Maybe Cornell was outmoded, but he cherished certain gender distinctions, especially those that distinguished this Lord or Duke from the legendary Duke he’d admired in his youth.
Grijalva led the visitors away, and immediately Chief Thurber was at Cornell’s elbow.
"I don’t like it, Mr. Westermann. The Chinese have their own space program. What do they want with us, except to snoop around…pry into what we’re doing…"
Cornell nodded. He’d voiced the same reservations to the Board. Ten years ago the ChiComs had seemed ready to go full throttle into space. But as the U.S. retreated militarily around the globe, the ChiComs had switched gears, using scant resources for a grandiose expansion of their navy. This had caused great consternation down the Pacific Rim from the Aleutians to New Zealand. But U.S. budgetary constraints had made it impossible to counter Chinese aggression, especially since the Chinese held most U.S. debt and threatened to raise interest rates every time Congress debated increased defense spending. Fortunately, a mild but protracted recession had made it impossible for China to pursue dominance in the Pacific and space at the same time. With the demise of ISS, the Chinese had decided to mothball their current shuttle fleet. They would rely on private contractors to help them maintain their satellites while they developed the next generation of spacecrafts.
All of which presented Lone Star with a Texas-sized moral dilemma. Would entering into a commercial contract with Beijing enable Chinese aggression toward American interests? The Board of Lone Star had given preliminary approval to the ChiCom package (voting after Cornell agreed to recuse himself), thinking only of the short-term good of their shareholders, thereby giving Cornell his marching orders and talking points. He repeated their mantra on the subject, and avoided looking directly at Thurber.
"China’s not an enemy. They’ve had most favored nation status since 1979."
"They hack us a thousand times a day," Thurber spat.
"And they never get through," Cornell reposted. "Only one who’s ever pierced our firewall is D’Arcy Sinclair."
"And until we figure out how," a low voice grumbled, "we’re vulnerable to anyone. Especially the Chinese." Cornell shot a glance left and spotted Hector Gaines. The warrior appeared defiant. In the face of what? Weakness. Craven desperation. It occurred to Cornell that maybe the bitter coffee wasn’t a mistake. He deserved a sour taste in his mouth. If anyone at Lone Star needed to cowboy up, it was he.
"I’m meeting with the Director of Security tomorrow," he said. "His final report on the hacked schematics. See if we can’t trace it to the source and nail D’Arcy once and for all. After that, we need to address this China deal."
"D’Arcy didn’t just steal schematics," Hector reminded him. "That sabotage left three pilots dead. And could have killed my whole team."
Cordell nodded somberly. "Let’s get them in the room, too."
*
David was not particularly prone to yellow fever. He just liked women. The more beautiful, exotic, and challenging, the better. So, Tsieh Gong intrigued him. Tall and lithe, with deluxe cheekbones, she was ready-made for the catwalk. But she was no set of twigs; hers was a firm body, conditioned to grace. And she didn’t wear that vapid expression endemic to models he’d dated from Miami to Milan. There was a restless intelligence in her large, hazel eyes that apparently saw through the silly pretext of their little tour. Or maybe she was just too cool for school.
Grijalva was pointing through the window at Persephone, on display outside its hangar, when David sidled up to Gong. "If you have any questions for the pilot…" No response. She simply gazed haughtily at the spacecraft, as if one "made in China" would be so much better. "Okay, my Mandarin isn’t as swift as the good doctor’s, but…"
"Hers is not bad," Gong sighed. David furrowed his brow and Gong suppressed a laugh. "You thought I was a Party hack? My Engineering degree is from M.I.T."
"Okay," David nodded. "So, no questions for the pilot?"
"Just one." She leered at him from the corner of her eye. "Wanna get out of here?"
*
MahnAz looked into the mirror behind the bar at the reflection of her Security Agent-in-Charge. Young and doe-eyed with slick, black hair, he stood bored and perhaps annoyed beside a rack of ten-gallon hats. His cohorts, stationed strategically throughout Crater Joe’s Crash Dive, stoically imbibed the atmosphere of Odessa’s leading nightspot. Named after Odessa’s leading tourist attraction, the Odessa Meteor Crater, which the visitor brochure warrantied was the third largest meteor crater in the United States, Crater Joe’s was a line dance Mecca where locals and wayfarers alike could strut to a plethora of tunes, from "Cotton-eye Joe" to "Friends in Low Places." Yes, having seen the sights from Stonehenge Odessa–the slightly miniaturized local version of the British original–to Monahans Sandhills–which were just that, hills of sand–MahnAz was every bit as bored as her keepers. So, when the DJ cranked a now-familiar tune, MahnAz decided it was time to stop being a cosmopolitan snob and start kicking shit like a local. After all, she was feeling a bit like "A Girl in a Country Song."
MahnAz called for a refill and slid off her stool. She sauntered to the dance floor and took up a point on the grid. Girls fell in, rank and file, around her. This was their show. Hip slap times eight, strut forward right, left, right, about face, and… There was a guy beside her? Doofus didn’t get the memo. Hip right, again hip right, pivot right and step left, step right, about face–the doofus lost his place–and left step, about face, step, about face. She was facing the bar again, eying the A-in-C’s reflection. He inclined towards her. Did the doe-eyed ex-Marine appreciate her shimmy? Then the line turned left with a knee raise and step, step, step, then plant both feet and twist and… Oh, no. The doofus, it was… Oh, no.
"Sorry to intrude on your evening," he huffed. "But your bloodhounds have assembled a formidable barricade."
Jump about face, jump about face.
"And, apparently," she snipped, "my employer doesn’t care for you."
Kick back, heel slap. Kick back, heel slap.
"Yes, funny story that. For another time."
Chug, chug, grapevine.
"At this present moment, your employer has greater animosities to consider."
Knee kick, knee kick.
"D’Arcy Sinclair?"
"Or so he thinks."
Rock step, rock step, rock step, plant.
MahnAz was facing the bar again; A-in-C was showing a piqued interest in her conversation.
"I can’t talk here."
"I won’t hold you," he prattled on. "Just be aware that Mr. Westermann is meeting with his investigators tomorrow and you need to be in that meeting. And you need to give him this."
With that, St. John Templar-Maubray reached inside her blouse, and slid the back of his hand into the left cup of her bra. The bloodhounds broke from their positions and closed on the cluster of girls, and…
Hands up, clap, stomp, hands up, clap, stomp, grave vine, heel scuff.
St. John Templar-Maubray zigzagged through the mob as though Stephen Hawking had devised the algorithm, bursting through the emergency exit and leaving the bloodhounds grasping at Daisy Dukes and halter tops, suffering a few slaps and raising a crescendo of boos. Outside, a motorcycle engine revved, as no doubt her assailant made his getaway.
The A-in-C escorted MahnAz back to the bar. His doe-eyes bore into her. "Are you all right, Doctor?"
She tossed her head dismissively and reached for her fresh drink. Tequila and Kahlua on the rocks, what the locals called a Toro Bravo.
"Harmless pest."
Dubious, Doe-eyes pressed the point. "You’ve never seen him before?"
MahnAz took a deep, refreshing sip. "Why? Did he strike you as the jihad type?"
He went back to his post against the wall. MahnAz wriggled onto her stool, and felt the thumb drive slip below her left nipple.
*
Bram Borchardt, Lone Star’s Director of Security, was a thick-necked, bullet-headed Dutch South African whose stern countenance still seemed to register familial resentment over the privations of the Boer War. He was suspicious of everyone and everything, especially centralized power, which over the last seven years had made him indispensible at the company. If any contemporary phenomenon resembled the imperial encroachment his ancestors had suffered and died opposing, it was the surreptitious hacking of private enterprise by rogue nations and politically connected operatives like D’Arcy Sinclair. Cornell trusted that Borchardt’s investigation had been meticulous and that he would not only tie D’Arcy to the hacking, but he’d uncover any of her operatives at Lone Star who might have abetted the sabotage that had killed three of his people–men he’d enticed to come work at Lone Star, who’d trusted his vision and had willingly strapped themselves into his cockpits when they could have taken cushy consulting jobs at any number of aeronautics firms. Their blood, hell, their vaporized flesh and charred ashes, cried out for justice, and Cornell was poised to bring the full weight of the law down on D’Arcy and her minions. So, he was more than a little flummoxed when old Bullet Head turned his palms up and declared, "I’ve got nothing."
"Nothing?"
"Nil."
"Remind me how much I pay you."
"You can fire me."
"Alright. You’re fired." Cornell slurped his coffee. If possible, it was worse than yesterday’s.
*
Daylight was leaking in, and from her bed, there was nothing MahnAz could do about it, other than turn away. She shifted her head and felt an avalanche of billiard balls roll from one tender temple to the other. El Toro Bravo had thrown her, then come back to stomp on her. What time…? She still had her smartwatch on. In fact, she still had everything on, except her shoes. Well, it was 8:30; time to get up, grab some coffee and start piecing together memories of last night. Ow. Something poked her chest. She opened her bra by the front clasp and felt something fall out. USB drive. Oh, shit. What the hell time was that meeting?
*
Borchardt closed his laptop and pushed back from the conference table, like a petulant armadillo rolling himself into a ball, not out of fear, just stubborn pride. He sat stock-still as the door opened and the other invitees filed in. Letting the blood drain from his neck, Cornell invited Melville, Thurber, Gaines and Grijalva to sit. Mr. Toma was conspicuously absent. Cornell imagined he’d had a hard night.
"Mr. Borchardt was just going to explain why he can’t tell us who hacked our schematics."
"Actually, I was just leaving…"
Cornell slapped the table, prompting a slight jump from Dr. Grijalva. "Aw, cut the crap, Bram," he growled. "People put their lives on the line for this company, now you tell us why we don’t know who sabotaged our ship."
Borchardt laced his fingers together and leaned forward with his elbows on the conference table. His wide eyes panned slowly around the arc of the table as he spoke. "Every day there are between five hundred and ten thousand cyber attacks on Lone Star. That’s every day. Rogue nations, our own NSA, savant pajama boys in their parents’ basements. All trying to gain access. We have an intricate maze of firewalls, innumerable redundancies, partitions, which we reconstitute hundreds of times a day to stay ahead of the hackers. The result!" he held up a calloused index finger and jabbed at the air. "!n my seven years, a cyber attack has never breached even a single secure server."
"Until now," Cornell drawled.
"Even now," Borchardt insisted. He opened his laptop and the wall screen behind his head lit up with a dense spreadsheet. "The system shows no breach. None. The schematics were not hacked."
"Then someone downloaded them," Hector suggested "and walked them out?"
"That would leave a trail, too, and it hasn’t. So, no."
Now Captain Gaines was irritated. "Then how’d they get into D’Arcy Sinclair’s data base?"
Borchardt was unapologetic, simply admitting. "We cannot say. And the thumb drive from Dr. Roshanzadeh contains no metadata. Obviously, the schematics went through many changes, from the time they left our database to when the altered plans were uploaded to when Federated redlined the flaws. But there are no digital fingerprints on these files. We’ve also questioned every engineer here at the compound and in California at Hughes, under retinal scans, and they showed nothing."
Cornell chewed the insides of his cheeks. He didn’t trust retinal scan technology. The cyber sleuths claimed it was a hundred times more reliable than a polygraph, but courts still found them inadmissible.
"Has Hughes had anybody resign?" he asked. "Any H-1B workers go home to their motherland?"
Borchardt shook his head. "That’s one of the first things we looked for. But no one working on our crafts has left Lone Star or Hughes."
The doors to the conference room rattled. Had Mr. Toma gotten out of bed? Cornell signaled Dr. Grijalva, sitting closest, to open the door. She announced Dr. Roshanzadeh, then stepped aside as the aforementioned physicist, her identity all but hidden beneath a Chicago Bears ball cap and behind dark aviator glasses, crept forward, holding a USB drive.
"I have something that might interest you."
Cornell tipped his head toward Borchardt, who extended a hand to take the drive. He inserted it into his laptop, reacting immediately to what opened on his screen.
"What is it?" Cornell asked.
"D’Arcy Sinclair didn’t get the schematics by hacking Lone Star. She hacked them from the Chinese."
*
David had never spent such a frustrating night. Gong was a feast for the senses. Her skin was so soft and firm, the scent of her hair was intoxicating, and her lips tasted like spiced wine and honey. The technique on display in her kisses, from the airiest peck to the deepest lingual suction, was as maddening as the famed Chinese water torture. He thoroughly intended to ravage her, gorge himself on her, but the girl would not remove one stitch of clothing. And every time his hands gripped one of her luscious curves, she flagged him for speeding. "Too fast, mister."
"You know who you’re talking too, right? Naw-sue-cah?"
"Yes, and I know what you want," she laughed. "You want to make a big joke with your friends about ‘banging a gong!’"
"That’s for amateurs," he insisted.
"Perhaps I’m just not ready for the pros."
It was four a.m. when he threw in the towel and headed for a cold shower.
*
"Where are they now?" Cornell demanded.
"Not here," Nadine answered. "They’re not due until noon. The luncheon."
"I am not breaking bread with those Moaist rattlesnakes." Cornell jabbed a finger across the table at Borchardt. "Have security put them on my plane. I want them off our soil."
"The board won’t like it," Melville warned.
"To hell with the board," Cornell snapped. "These are murderers."
"So you’re sending them home?" Hector asked. The room fell silent.
"It’ll send a message."
"And that is what, exactly?" Hector asked. His voice was calm, but his eyes signaled full alert. "That when the Chinese sabotage our company and kill three of our people, they get no lunch?"
Cornell pursed his lips. With a flick of his hand, he dismissed Melville, Thurber and Grijalva. "Stay, Bram," he said as Borchardt lifted his laptop. The door closed and Cornell stretched back in his chair. "Should I have a drink before I hear this, Captain?"
"Your prerogative, sir."
"I’ll hold off. Speak your mind."
Captain Gaines placed an elbow on the conference table. He took a deep breath through flared nostrils before announcing, "Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning… whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed."
Cornell tipped his head to the side. His trapezius muscles were seizing. "You want to kill some ChiComs, Hector?" he asked. "You miss combat that much?"
"They’ve been hacking us for twenty years," Gaines answered. "Not Lone Star," he conceded. "But us, our country. They hack the web, destroy sites with malware, steal IP, pirate music, movies, what have you. And the government, our government, does nothing. We do nothing."
"Not nothing," Cornell corrected. "We appease them. Because as long as they’re just stealing, they’re not bringing down our infrastructure." He shook his head. "I appreciate your passion, but we are not a military outpost."
"Neither was your great-grandfather’s ranch, but he hanged rustlers."
Cornell raised an eyebrow. The man had done his homework. True enough, in 1871, Austin Westermann had hanged three men he’d accused of rustling thirty head of longhorn cattle. A grand jury had indicted him and two of his ranch hands, but a jury acquitted them the following year.
"He knew," Gaines continued, "that the law was distant, uninterested and inefficient."
"Not to mention corrupt and cowardly." Cornell crossed his arms; the tachycardia threatened to return. "I’ve got no objection to hangings," he said. "As long the right people are hanged."
That statement hung in the air for a moment, like a corpse twisting after the drop, until Borchardt piped up. "You want I should pick out a target?"
Cornell felt the noose tighten around his own neck. They had to retaliate, but Cornell had no desire to incite the wrath of Interpol, the State Department or the U.N. Security Council, nor did he want to invite a shareholder rebellion. "See if you can spare us any Ox-Bow incident."
*
Nadine thought that the luncheon with the Chinese delegation had gone smoothly enough. But the pro forma speeches, composed long in advance, had been tinged with irony in light of their new knowledge. Xi Dong Wen had promised a partnership based on trust and mutual benefits. Now, as he sat sipping cognac and gazing haughtily around the dining room, Xi exuded triumphalism that gave an odious context to his comments during yesterday’s tour.
Aboard Persephone he had examined the controls of the cockpit and remarked, "Such complex machinery. It is always best to have an extra pair of eyes. Perhaps our partnership can prevent emergencies like you experienced last spring."
Nadine had thought nothing of it at the time, but now that she knew Xi’s people had been behind the sabotage, his speech was right out of the Mafia’s protection racket handbook. She didn’t know how much more of his arrogance she could take without smacking him upside his fat head.
"Xi Weiyuan," Nadine intoned, "Mr. Westermann will see you now."
Xi nodded, put his hand on the small of her back, and gestured for her to lead the way.
Nadine bit her tongue. Retribution would come from above her pay grade.
*
It was nearly four o’clock when Hector got a text message from Borchardt that he had the outline of a plan. Hector had not attended the closed-door session where Xi Dong Wen presented Mr. Westermann with the terms of the bribe. But he did see both men smiling together later, as Westermann saw the contingent off on the tarmac, so he assumed the price the delegate quoted was similar to what the board had anticipated. It was all a charade anyway, because once they had a tentative agreement with Lone Star, the Chinese would go immediately to Federated and ask D’Arcy Sinclair to undercut it. They wanted to get the two companies into a bidding war Lone Star could not afford to lose. The ideal endpoint for the Chinese was an agreement where the revenue from the bribe paid their expenses under the contract. That would be folly for Lone Star, but perfectly amenable to D’Arcy Sinclair, whose sole purpose was to squeeze her competitor out of business.
Borchardt’s plan was surprisingly detailed for such short notice, but he admitted to Hector, "Many of us have known this day was coming." The only flaw in Borchardt’s scheme, as far as Hector could see, was its reliance on a particular member of Lone Star personnel. But Borchardt insisted, "He’s the key; he gets us access."
So, Hector summoned David Toma to a meeting in the Security Director’s office. Hector quickly caught him up on what he’d missed earlier in the day.
"So how did the Chinese hack us without us knowing about it?" Toma asked.
"We haven’t figured that out yet," Hector interjected, sparing Borchardt another defense of his protocols. "What we know is, they got our schematics, doctored them, fed them back to us, and let us build the flaws into our spacecrafts. Then D’Arcy Sinclair hacked the Chinese, and apparently her people were examining the doctored schematics when Dr. Roshanzadeh lifted them and brought them to us."
Toma muttered something in Spanish. "Jode los comunistas!"
"How’s that, Lieutenant?" Hector asked.
"A quote from my grandfather. His, uh, final words."
Borchardt clicked an image onto the wall screen, a photo of a non-descript Chinese man in his mid-fifties. "The head of the hacking enterprise in China, and this is a large department of their central government, more than one hundred thousand workers, is Tsieh Ping. Our sources at NSA and CIA all name him as the architect of China’s program to infiltrate and subvert US government and private enterprise through the Internet."
"The Big Kahuna," Hector added.
"Okay," Toma noted. "So?"
Borchardt cleared his throat and continued. "He is the uncle of someone you are intimately familiar with. Miss Tsieh Gong."
A photo flashed on the screen of Tsieh Ping and Gong alighting from the same limousine.
"What exactly is your relationship with her?" Hector asked.
Toma shrugged. "Up in the air."
"I need you to bring it down to Earth," Hector said. "I need you to tell her you desperately want to see her. That you’re willing to fly to China. Immediately. Once you’re there, I need you to enter their home and disable the alarms."
"And then what?"
Hector rolled a computer mouse around the pad, then clicked, filling the wall screen with an image of Lone Star II’s wreckage, smoldering in a charred stretch of desert.
"Then I enter the apartment. Find Tsieh Ping. And I kill him."
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